Sand Dunes, Baking Experiments & Cardboard Creations

After neglecting my blog for a little while, I realise how much we must have been doing since I last posted. It seems to be difficult to condense it all into one post 🙂 We have been spending a lot of time at the seaside and making crafts and baking at home. I took the girls to a beach last week, early in the day, so it was at its quietest. They enjoyed walking on the boardwalk and over the sand dunes 🙂 I love looking at the backdrop of mountains near Newcastle. The combination of sea and mountains is one of my favourite things 🙂 The tide was out and had left lots of little puddles and channels for the girls to paddle and jump in, so they were easy to please 🙂

At home, we used some of the girls’ nature finds to draw pictures from. We set up a table a bit like the one in the Ulster Museum art room 🙂 We have the same chunky colouring pencils to draw with and they make it much more satisfying for some reason 🙂

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I also got out an encyclopedia for kids with pictures of sky scrapers in it. I cut up some leftover party straws and gave the girls glue and paper so they could recreate structures with them. One opted for the tallest building and the other made a miniature eiffel tower 🙂

I wanted to try to make polenta cake. A friend of mine made some a long time ago and served it to us with lapsang souchong tea. I really liked the combination of the two flavours. So, we made an orange and blueberry cake using polenta instead of flour. It has a grainier texture but I liked it and it felt light compared to a stodgy cake.

We have season tickets for the farm, so we have been spending a lot of time there. The girls spotted the mice nibbling ice cream cones and wanted me to take pictures of it 🙂 There are also some baby mice and piglets there now. We arrived just as a lady was about to feed apples to the pigs, so the girls got to feed them and it was funny watching them eating whole apples in one bite 🙂 We got to pet chicks and bunnies and went on the barrel rides 🙂 Afterwards, I treated the girls to a hotdog each for lunch 🙂

I have been trying some healthy snack recipes – none of which can I get the girls to eat 🙂 I made carrot cake balls, using carrots, nuts, coconut, etc. I thought they wouldn’t satisfy my craving for carrot cake, but they contained all the same flavours without being too heavy 🙂 But the girls immediately detected the fact they were healthy and refused to eat them.

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For their benefit (and for mine), we made some peanut butter and chocolate rice krispie buns. I can see why it is such a popular thing to bake with kids, because it skips ahead to their favourite parts (licking the bowl and sprinkles) without any of the measuring and mess (or agony for me.)

My daughter decided to make her own wands out of lolly sticks. She gave my other daughter a little craft chest filled with materials for her birthday. They have both used nearly all of it already 🙂 I like the fact that they come up with their own ideas now and work away at them (even though it does result in them dragging the contents of the craft cupboard out onto the floor.)

We also made some little toilet tube horses. You have to fold them flat and cut the shape around the legs and head before folding them out again. The girls painted theirs with white and black spots, and when they were dry, we added heads cut out of cardboard and manes and tails made with embroidery thread. We also made feeding trays out of egg cartons and the girls painted water and food/made cardboard hay for them. They also made a stable out of an empty cupcake box, but they lost patience when they were halfway through painting it 🙂 I cut half doors into it so they could put the horses inside and it has been the most popular toy of the week.

Finally, I gave the girls some squares cut out of empty cardboard boxes and they painted them bright colours. When they had dried, we collected nature scraps from the garden, like twigs, petals and dry leaves and they made little pictures with them. One made a little house and the other made a bug with antennae and pom pom eyes 🙂

This week, we are on a nearby “holiday,” so we should have plenty of activities to share from it soon too 🙂

 

Feeding Deer, Unicorn Crafts & New Recipes

I have so much catching up to do on my blog. It feels like every day has been crammed with things to do and I haven’t had a huge amount of down-time for writing. This week, the girls and I spent a lot of time outdoors, even when the weather wasn’t on our side 🙂

We went to Mount Panther for the first time. Although the entry is quite expensive, I thought it was worth it and we spent hours there. My daughters agreed that it is their favourite place now. It is well laid-out for kids. We started with the petting farm and we got the chance to see some unusual animals. I had expected to find the typical animals you find on a farm, but there were bearded dragons, snakes, pygmy marmosets, meerkats and a thirty-year old tortoise. There was also a cockatoo that says hello if you say it first 🙂 The girls got to hold a guinea pig that was surprisingly friendly. We used to feed my friend’s guinea pigs when she was on holiday and they hid from us every time we visited 🙂

Outside, we went to a little town they had made for kids. They pedal from shop to shop on tractors. There was a playground and one of those permanent bouncy castles in the ground – I still don’t know what those are called! We got to feed the deer and goats and looked at the wallabies. I’m not sure what the difference is between wallabies and kangaroos, but my kids were excited to see the “kangaroos” anyway, and so was I 🙂 They stood and waited for a long time, hoping to see them jumping. I like the way nature keeps my children in the moment and teaches them how to stand still and wait for something. Usually they don’t do this at all 🙂

We went on the barrel rides over the fields and there was a deer safari, but it costed an extra £12 for a family, so we didn’t go. We got to feed the deer in their outdoor enclosure anyway 🙂 At the end, the girls asked me if we could go again the next day which is always the sign of a successful outing 🙂

We have been hoarding cardboard and empty boxes, etc for crafting. The girls often use their junk box without my involvement now, making gift boxes for doll’s birthday presents 🙂 They like to have a different toy’s birthday each day, to console themselves over the fact it isn’t one of their own birthdays 🙂 We made some toilet roll tube unicorns I saw online. I tend to look for inspiration online but don’t have the patience to read the instructions, so we just make it up as we go along 🙂 We made some pink paint and the girls painted their unicorns pink and white, adding dots of paint for cheeks. I also just cut shapes out of another toilet roll tube to make the ears and horns. We used yellow paint on the unicorns’ horns and added lots of glitter while the paint was still wet. We let the parts dry overnight and then added manes and tails that we made out of colourful embroidery thread. If you wrap it around four fingers and keep winding it until you have several layers you can tie a knot around it with the end of the thread and then jut cut the end of the loop open so it hangs like hair. We glued them all together and then I added eyes with a marker at the end. I still don’t know where to store all of our cardboard creations. The girls act like each one is their most treasured possession and immediately notice if I try to throw any out (even when they aren’t in the room – I think they can sense it.)

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I’ve been experimenting with new recipes this week. I wanted to make some healthy snacks, so the girls helped me to make cashew nut energy balls and nut bars – both of which they refused to eat! I made some pineapple chicken to use up what we had in the fridge. It turned out like a chinese-style meal and was surprisingly good 🙂 The girls both ate the sauce and I was stunned.

My kids’ Toucan boxes arrived, so they completed the activities inside. One was to make a hanging picture of cherry blossom. They used lolly sticks as the frame and a pipe cleaner as the hook. There was also a crown to make and a fish puppet. The girls are interested in colour mixing at the moment, and if I give them watercolours and lots of paper, it keeps them busy for a long time. My older daughter asked me to move vases of flowers onto the table so she could paint from them. I’ve been thinking of doing the same with nature finds soon.

We made some easy cookies using just bananas, oats and chocolate chips. The girls took their bikes to the Greenway and afterwards, I made some hot chocolate to warm them up since it was such a gloomy day. I made some homemade burgers and chips and we had a board game dinner, which is the girls’ favourite thing to do (apart from watching TV while they eat – or while they do anything for that matter :))

 

A Weekend of Watching the World

This post is a bit of a latecomer, but I’ve been editing a book this week and it’s taking up most of my time. I spent most of last weekend absorbing what was happening around us, in a bit of a daze. Sometimes I just need a break from running around and being busy to give new ideas a chance to grow.

My daughter is really interested in making clay creatures at the minute. We found some air-drying clay in the pound shop and she’s been creating things with it. I also got some plasticine without giving her any instruction and she cut it into thin strips and made a rainbow and mermaid using that technique. I like seeing what ideas kids come up with without adult interference. I also picked up a kids’ book from the library about growing things and learning to cook. The gardening basics are suitable for me, considering my lack of luck with keeping plants alive 🙂 I’ve also been planning on teaching my kids some basic recipes. We have always baked together but I like the idea of them learning how to cook simple things without much help.

My older daughter had an event at her school one evening. so I used it as an opportunity to take my younger one on an ice cream date. She ordered a Peppa pig milkshake and we sat at the window, watching the activity in the street. It made me realise we don’t go out together much after dinner time because she was intrigued by people out and about after dark 🙂 I think it’s important teaching kids how to sit in contemplation and wonder about things. They don’t get enough down time anymore, and observing the world or sitting with nothing to fill the void teaches them how to handle boredom and to come up with creative ideas of their own. We sat for a long time and I had some ice cream mixed with white chocolate 🙂 The shop has recently come under new management and they have snow cones, which I don’t think I’ve seen before in Northern Ireland.

On Sunday, we went to the Chinese New Year celebrations at the Ulster Hall. The hall was decorated with parasols and lanterns and bunting. The event only cost £2 per person and it lasted for two hours and was composed of dances from all different cultures. As well as Chinese dragons, drumming, martial arts, gentle traditional dance with parasols and ethereal costumes with sleeves longer than wedding dress trains, there was break dancing, a man who juggled hats and caught them with his head and Irish and Ulster Scots dancing (I didn’t know that was a thing.) I was surprised how long the girls sat still for, rapt. I think the live music and dancing held their attention far longer than a film or dialogue-based show would. I found that it helped me switch off and forced us to be in the moment, which was needed after the hectic week we’d had. The girls think everything is an adventure when we take the Glider to get there anyway.

Afterwards, I just made fakeaway pizza for our family. I’ve noticed that if I’m preoccupied or my mind is too much elsewhere, kneading dough helps to slow everything down. My kids always want to help too. I guess it’s like play doh on a grand scale. This weekend I’m considering planning some nature-related outings, to allow us some headspace and time to absorb more ideas from the world around us, and just to get some mental rest since physical rest with kids is never an option 🙂

Taste the City Belfast

I’ve decided to make Saturday a day to go to free events with my kids when they are on. We live close to the city centre and the bus is right on our doorstep and we barely use it. I think my kids have finally reached the age where it is (a bit) less stressful to venture into town 🙂

Today there was a food festival thing on in Belfast and it said it was a free event with activities for kids so we went 🙂 I was surprised by what they offered for free. My kids both got their faces painted, they got to make kites with all the materials supplied and to do sugar craft designs on cupcakes.

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The kite-making workshop was good for all ages. The kids had to pick a picture to trace onto it and then colour it in before it was assembled. The girls really enjoyed doing this and it solved the problem I often have at markets of stopping them grabbing everything in sight!

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Afterwards, we sat in the sun while the girls ate the buns they had iced and we listened to live music playing in the square. The only thing I paid for was a disappointing cup of coffee and I wished I had thought ahead to bring my own!

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There were stalls selling sweets, condiments, teas, etc, and food demos, but I didn’t attempt to get the girls to sit still for them! There was a relaxed vibe to the place and it seemed surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I love when you find things no one seems to know are happening 🙂 Especially since I don’t cope well with busy places 🙂

I had set a budget for the day so we took the bus into town instead of paying for parking and my kids were so excited they got to sit at the top on a double decker 🙂

I brought our own drinks and we got lunch for all of us from Greggs for £3.50 and took it to the park, where the girls flew their new kites and ran off some of their energy.

After that, we went to Lush because I had promised the girls a bath bomb. They used their first one last week and were fascinated by it. I guided them towards a lavender one, hoping it would help them sleep, but that was probably wishful thinking 🙂 I got a face mask while I was there. I think even if you are trying to save money it is better to limit yourself to one treat, rather than depriving yourself of everything – it helps you to stop splurging on lots of things.

We called into Learning Space, which is a shop with educational toys and games for kids. There was a sensory story time where the lady read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” with props the kids could play with – like fake snow to make it snow, play doh to squelch in, a tarp to hide under 🙂

At the end of the day, we looked in a bookshop. Then, I had a coffee and the girls had juice in a cafe while they did sticker books. I’m thinking about making this a little tradition of ours 🙂 I think the best kind of days with kids are ones where you have a vague plan (so you don’t end up lost for things to do/with bored, whiney kids!) but that is open-ended and you can adapt to what you feel like doing at the time/judge it by everyone’s tiredness levels. If you break the day up with kid-friendly activities and snack breaks, days out with kids are definitely more enjoyable 🙂

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Sunshine and Spontaneity

Last weekend, we went to The Fine and Dandy Market. It is a monthly market in Belfast that sells handmade items and quirky things. I always know when I go it’s going to account for most of my unnecessary spending that month. Everything is so cool I’m like a deprived magpie in a jewellery box. I’d been looking for hanging plants for a while. I saw some at a local flower shop, but they were expensive, so I waited to see if I found a cheaper one elsewhere. I found one for £12 that hangs from a rope and a plant in a glass ball that hangs from a metal stand the stall holder had made. I got a bit carried away since they suit the 60’s decor in my living room.
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My kids enjoyed the market too. They like going to the fancy bows stall and appealing to my mum to get them some. They got some unique ones. One was a little dream catcher hair clip – I think about pinching it when she’s not looking.

They have made the fair more kid-friendly now. There was a felting workshop upstairs where the girls learned how to make soap in a coat. You take a bar of soap and wrap it in wool, using water until it clings to the soap and looks decorative, as well as having a practical use. Making them involved lots of bubbles and mess, so my kids loved it and they were proud of their creations they got to bring home.

In the market, there is a lady who makes amazing earrings. I bought another pair. She was simultaneously holding a kids’ workshop where they could use gems, and patterned paper and tape to decorate rings and badges.

I think the key to a good day out with kids is breaking things up into small segments. I manage to go shopping with them sometimes as long as there are food and drink breaks and a chance for them to make something/ run around in an open space.

We shared a pizza outside the market and then decided things were getting a bit fraught, so we decided to go to the Belfast Mela.

I’d never been to it before and it was worth going to. It is an event that celebrates all different cultures and brings everyone together. Tickets were seven pounds for adults and kids go free. It was on for hours and it takes place in Botanic Gardens. There was so much to do – we sat in the sun and listened to the Dublin Gospel choir. The girls were happy to get some lemonade and dinky donuts. Then we found a tent for kids where they could dig in big basins filled with rice/cereal and utensils. That kept them occupied for ages. There was dancing with scarves for them in the tent too. We walked around the whole park to see what was on. There was lots of food being served from different cultures. Each section was labelled with a country. We watched African limbo fire dancing which my daughter said was her favourite. The girls loved sticking their heads through the animal photo boards. It is held once a year and we would definitely go back. I love days where you plan to go to one event and end up at another one, deciding what you do as you go and not over-planning; letting the day unfold how it wants to.

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8 tips for adventures with kids

8 Tips For Mini Adventures With Kids

I was feeling inspired to write this post after a waterlogged week away with my kids. The weather was conscientiously working to spoil our holiday, so we had to be inventive with what we did. Here are a few ideas for mini adventures with kids.

1. Find little surprises in small places

My kids and I drove to what used to be a little fishing village. It was remote and had quaint little cottages overlooking the harbour. There was nothing to do there; even it’s one craft shop was closed. However, we went for a walk and found a shed that had baby lambs and sheep inside it. They were just sitting peacefully, inches from us and it ended up being a moment that stayed with my daughter. Don’t rule somewhere out just because no one talks about it or it seems like nothing significant is there 🙂

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2. Bring supplies and go out in the rain anyway

If there is torrential rain, dress for it and go for a walk in puddles. We went to a National Trust property in heavy rain and ended up having a picnic under a tree there. A room had been opened for indoor colouring for kids and we went for tea and scones and played games in a notebook I brought. It always helps to have paper and crayons with you to keep your kids entertained during an unplanned moment.

3. Collect simple items and draw them/make collages

My kids love going beach combing and  wearing wellies while they jump in rock pools. They have a little tin they keep shells in. We went for a windy walk and then retreated indoors, lit the fire and drew pictures of shells. You could do the same with leaves, flowers, pine cones. rocks, etc. You can also do rubbings, where you scribble on a page laid over textured items and teach your kids about different patterns and textures while you’re doing it.

4. Stop somewhere you weren’t planning to visit

We went to Scrabo Tower just as we were passing it one day. Some children happened to have gathered there to roll eggs down the hill. The girls enjoyed watching them and climbing up the steep hill. The views were spectacular as it was such a clear day. We found a picnic table in what felt like a quiet meadow and I had brought coffee and snacks that kept the girls entertained while they made a play house under the picnic table.

5. Eat in the garden, even if it’s cold

You can still eat outside even in unfortunate weather. It feels like a preamble to a barbecue and makes you appreciate returning to the warmth of indoors afterwards. I made hotdogs indoors and had a pretend barbecue outside the cottage we were staying in. The girls loved it and followed it with dancing outside and hide and seek.

6. Stop at charity shops in unexpected places

Sometimes the remotest of places contain the best second-hand stuff. I found two cups from the 70’s for 50p 🙂 My daughter got some blocks that she has played with constantly since. Sometimes letting kids choose an item themselves makes it more valuable to them (even if it’s only 20p.)

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7. Drive the long way

Sometimes choosing the longer route means more scenic drives and more interesting things to point out to your kids. My kids loved watching to see if the sea was rough or still, which birds they could identify and if there were any boats along the coast. Involving them in sporting things outside definitely makes them less tetchy when you’re driving.

8. Get your kids binoculars or a disposable camera

My granny did this for us as kids and we loved it. My kids picked up some binoculars for bird watching on our trip but have also been using them to look at the sea and the sky (and to spy on people in the street!)  They love spotting things in the distance and sharing them with you.

Adventures don’t have to be about travelling great distances or spending excessively. Kids always remember the simplest, cheapest thing that you just fell upon along the way.